A former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was accused of grabbing a woman's behind and was arrested on Friday on a sex abuse charge but said the woman's allegation "does not reflect" who he is or the values he has.
Dr. Thomas Frieden, who also is a former New York City health commissioner, appeared in Brooklyn Criminal Court on Friday in connection with what the woman says happened on Oct. 20, 2017, at his Brooklyn home. He pleaded not guilty to the charges of forcible touching, sex abuse and harassment, according to his defense attorney Laura Brevetti.
The accuser reported the encounter in July, and Frieden was taken into custody after an investigation. The 55-year-old woman, who knew Frieden, told police that he grabbed her buttocks.
The judge ordered Frieden to refrain from any contact with the woman and to surrender his U.S. passport. Frieden was freed on his own recognizance, leaving in a car with his attorney. His next court appearance is Oct. 11.
Frieden leads a health initiative called Resolve to Save Lives, which is housed by nonprofit global health organization Vital Strategies.
"The allegation does not reflect Dr. Frieden's public or private behavior or his values over a lifetime of service to improve health around the world," said a statement issued by a spokesman on his behalf.
The president of Vital Strategies, Jose L. Castro, came out in support of Frieden. He said Frieden informed him in April that "a non-work-related friend of his and his family of more than 30 years accused him of inappropriate physical contact."
"I have known and worked closely with Dr. Frieden for nearly 30 years and have seen first-hand that he has the highest ethical standards both personally and professionally," Castro said in a statement. "In all of my experiences with him, there have never been any concerns or reports of inappropriate conduct."
Nonetheless, earlier this month Vital Strategies hired an investigator to interview Resolve to Save Lives employees even though the woman didn't work there. Castro said the investigation found no inappropriate workplace behavior.
"Vital Strategies greatly values the work Dr. Frieden does to advance public health and he has my full confidence," Castro said.
Frieden was a disease investigator at the Atlanta-based CDC, the nation's top public health agency, in 1990 when he was assigned to New York City and worked on a large outbreak of drug-resistant tuberculosis. He stayed, taking a job heading the city's tuberculosis control.
In 1996, he began working in India with the World Health Organization on tuberculosis control.
Frieden became New York City's health commissioner in 2002 and was known for his aggressive measures to attack chronic diseases. In 2003, New York banned smoking in almost all workplaces, a precedent-setting move that inspired other cities to do the same. In 2006, it became the first U.S. city to ban restaurants from using artificial trans fats and required hundreds of eateries to post calorie counts on their menus.
In 2009, President Barack Obama's administration picked Frieden to head the CDC. Frieden led U.S. public health efforts during a range of high-profile national and international health crises, including pandemic flu, Ebola and Zika.
Frieden was CDC director until January 2017, when he resigned as part of the turnover to President Donald Trump's administration.
In September 2017, Frieden announced he had moved back to New York City to head the $225 million Resolve to Save Lives initiative.
Associated Press writers Kiley Armstrong and Mike Stobbe in New York and Colleen Long in Washington contributed to this report.